Butler forward Roosevelt Jones tries to get off the floor during celebrations after he made the game-winning basket against Gonzaga in an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, in Indianapolis. Butler won 64-63. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Sunday, January 20, 2013 12:57 am
No. 13 Butler steals 64-63 win over No. 8 Gonzaga
By MICHAEL MAROTAP Sports Writer
He wound up stealing the ball and a victory.
The sophomore forward looped around Gonzaga's 7-foot center, stole an overthrown inbounds pass with 3.5 seconds left, took a peek at the clock and drove from midcourt into the lane for a buzzer-beating floater that gave No. 13 Butler a 64-63 victory over No. 8 Gonzaga.
It was just one more play in Butler's ever-expanding guide on how to make the improbable victories possible.
"These guys make you believe," coach Brad Stevens said. "The way they play the game, how hard they play the game, they just make you believe."
Why not, given what Butler (16-2, 3-0 Atlantic 10) already has achieved this season.
The Bulldogs have won 13 straight games, including the last two without their leading scorer, Rotnei Clarke. With a win over No. 9 North Carolina in November, a win over No. 1 Indiana in December and now over No. 8 Gonzaga in January, Butler has beaten three top 10 teams in one season for the first time.
The latest came on a night when the power conferences ceded center stage to the two biggest little schools in college basketball.
And, of course, it came in the same Hinkle Fieldhouse where Oscar Robertson won two state titles and led his school to the first undefeated season in Indiana high school basketball, where Bobby Plump delivered the winner in Milan's miraculous 1954 state title run that later became the plot for the movie "Hoosiers," and in a venue that had never before hosted a game between two top 15 college teams.
This game had all the trimmings, from Plump's return to the court to a rare game-ending rushing of the floor by Butler's students. Much to Jones' surprise, he was the reason for the postgame celebration.
"I never did it in my life," Jones said when asked about the last time he hit a buzzer-beating shot.
The 6-foot-4 sophomore finished with 20 points, five rebounds and four assists. And after Alex Barlow, who hit the winning shot to upset the Hoosiers, was called for traveling with 3.5 seconds left, Jones made the perfect read when Gonzaga point guard David Stockton, the son of NBA Hall of Famer John Stockton, threw the inbounds pass over the head of 7-foot center Kelly Olynyk.
Jones, expecting a lob, played it like an NFL cornerback and moved behind Olynyk. That put Jones in better position to catch the ball than the Gonzaga center.
Then, with fans in the sold-out arena rising and their arms flailing, Jones raced into the lane where he threw up a mid-range shot that went through the net and set off another wild celebration.
Gonzaga (17-2, 4-0 West Coast Conference) didn't even bother to stick around for the replay review. The Zags knew it was good.
"He's just really, really tough. He's aggressive and he's confident and that's a heck of a shot," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said after watching an eight-game winning streak end. "I've never consistently seen anyone make so many floaters from 10 to 12 feet."
Butler got 14 points from freshman Kellen Dunham and eight from Khyle Marshall.
The Zags were led by Elias Harris and Sam Dower, who each scored 20. Olynyk, the West Coast Conference's top scorer, finished with 14 points and seven rebounds despite spending most of the second half in foul trouble.
The numbers paled in comparison to what happened in what was being billed as the best non-power conference game of the season.
Organizers did it up right.
In the morning, Plump missed both of the shots he took from the same spot in the same gym where he made the winning shot in the 1954 Indiana high school state tourney.
Some fans rekindled memories of past eras by wearing jerseys bearing the names of former Butler players such as Matt Howard and Duane Lightfoot. Every seat was filled 10 minutes before tip-off, and the students who were standing in line more than 2 1/2 hours before the game's scheduled start time literally ran into the fieldhouse to find a precious seat behind one of the baskets.
What they really wanted to see was Clarke in his game-day attire instead of street clothes as he battles back from a severely sprained neck.
The consolation prize wasn't bad: An instant classic.
Butler trailed 33-32 at halftime but came out of the locker room and scored the first five points to take the lead. The Bulldogs didn't trail again until Harris' layup made it 59-58 with 1:26 left.
Jones answered 19 seconds later with his own layup to give the Bulldogs the lead, starting a sequence of four straight lead changes.
When Olynyk made two free throws to give the Zags a 63-62 lead and Barlow turned the ball over, it looked as though that would be the last lead change of the night.
But Jones responded by stealing the ball and the game.
"I just made a basketball play," he said. "I heard the coach say lob and I just made a basketball play."